Russia’s ban from global sports is a punishment rife with politics, analysts told RT. Worse still, political decisions can punish clean athletes, who will be denied the honor of competing for their country.
The World Anti-Doping Agency handed down the ban on Monday, after Russia was alleged to have manipulated data in a Moscow anti-doping laboratory. WADA voted to suspend Russia from all major sporting events for four years in response, meaning the Russian flag will not fly at the next two Olympic Games as well as the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, should Russia qualify.
Clean athletes, however, will be able to compete, albeit under a neutral flag and with no national anthem.
In the runup to the ban, US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) head Travis Tygart had called for even harsher penalties, including a blanket ban on all athletes, even those found to be clean.
The “political element to this cannot be denied,” global affairs analyst Patrick Henningsen told RT. Henningsen sees WADA, like many other international organizations, as biased in favor of its Western members.
[It’s] about humiliating Russia, it’s about demoralizing their athletes, [and] It’s also about hurting Vladimir Putin
“National pride is connected with national sport for any leader of any country,” he added.
Russia’s image will certainly be tarnished by the news, which broke just hours before Putin was due to sit down with French, German, and Ukrainian leaders in Paris, in a bid to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine. With the Paris summit being a long-awaited ‘Normandy Format’ meeting – first since 2016 – the stakes are high for all involved.
“It’s bad news for that event,” political analyst Martin McCauley told RT. “The newspapers will concentrate on this and not on the Normandy event.” Likewise, the emergence of the news so close to the summit will likely give ample fodder to journalists quizzing Putin after the meetings conclude.
Clean athletes caught in a ‘war of politics’
Those athletes untainted by doping scandals have been “caught up in a war of politics,” McCauley said. Though such athletes will be allowed to compete, standing on the podium without their national colors and celebrating without their national anthem reverberating through the arena will be “devastating,” he said.
“When they get home with a medal, it’s only 90 percent of a medal, because the other competing athletes had their national anthem played, and they had their moment of glory. The Russians are going to be denied that.”
Competing under a neutral flag is a “very small consolation,” Henningsen added. “Even during the Cold War most countries respected the sporting arena as a neutral arena where politics wasn’t really going to contaminate that.”
Athletes typically spend their entire lives training to reach peak performance for one, maybe two, Olympic Games. However, all is not entirely lost for those who were hoping to represent Russia at next year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo. “The Russians can appeal,” McCauley noted, “and one would expect they’d appeal very strongly indeed.”
The Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) will now decide whether to appeal the ban. Russian parliamentarian and former Olympic speed skater Svetlana Zhurova said she is “100 percent sure” the agency will appeal.
RUSADA has not had its work restricted by the WADA decision. Agency chief Yuri Ganus – a longtime critic of doping in Russia who has acknowledged that the data handed over to WADA was tampered with – said on Monday that “WADA considers our actions to be effective and productive. And we are an example of overcoming the crisis.”
“We will work on finding our way out of the crisis for our sport. We will ensure the compliance of our federations and with the code and the training of our athletes.”
Through appeal and reform, Ganus hopes to make Russian athletics clean again. His mission is one with political payoff too. Henningsen noted the power of international sport to build “person to person diplomacy,” fostering good relations between countries, even when their leaders can’t seem to agree on much else. The positive experiences of fans who traveled to Russia for last year’s World Cup – against the advice of much of the western media – were an example of this, he said.
A thaw on this front of the “New Cold War” would therefore be a welcome development, even if relations elsewhere remain decidedly icy.